The Long & Winding Road to Independence
1. Opening Narrative
a. Demands for Scottish self-rule stem from the fact that Scotland, (unlike any other region in the UK) enjoys a historic status as a nation dating back to before the Tenth Century. Notwithstanding the 1707, Treaty of Union, (imposed upon Scotland against the wishes of it’s people) Scotland retains a distinct set of legal, educational and religious institutions ensuring retention of a separate Scottish identity.
b. UK membership of the European Union (EU) in the late 1960’s brought with it a realization that traditional relationships with England had not, (with the exception of a major depression) delivered anything of note. Conversely power had been systematically removed from Scotland to Westminster. Of particular concern was the removal of heavy industry, (ship building, car manufacture, coal and steel making) which brought with it severe financial hardships, deprivation and child poverty.
c. The Tory party, (through the dictatorial leadership of Margaret Thatcher) was deemed guilty of the rapid and sustained downturn in the fortunes of Scotland and their parliamentary representation in Scotland went into terminal decline throughout the period 1973-1997. In that period, despite the lack of political representation in Scotland, the Tory Party was returned to power in Westminster, for 18 years creating the offensive anomaly that Scottish political institutions had to be managed by MPs from English constituencies.
d. Undaunted the, “right wing” Tory government set about dismantling the, “Welfare State” an institution held dear in the hearts of many Scot’s. It was this dogma, (finally rejected by the UK electorate) that brought Tony Blair and the Labour party to power in 1997. The success, (in that year) of pro-devolution parties, (not the Tory Party) bringing through legislation, following the successful referendum allowed the creation of a Scottish Parliament for the first time in 300 years.
2. The Tory Party’s Journey to 2014
a. The Tory Party arrogantly maintained their position as a unionist party and had a clear anti-devolution policy for Scotland in the period up to 1945. After the war the Labour government of Attlee nationalized Scottish industries, an action vehemently opposed by the Tory Party who, (when they were returned to power in 1951), gave a small measure of solace to the restless Scot’s, establishing a Royal Commission, (talking shop) on Scottish needs, the outcome of which was the introduction of some debating time within Westminster for Scottish matters. The Tory government did not however support Scottish devolution and the thirteen year period of Tory government, (1951-1964) was devoid of any hope of change for those who desired Scottish self rule.
b. It was the electoral rise of the SNP, (through the election of Winnie Ewing in Hamilton) that changed the Tory Party’s views on Scottish devolution. In 1968 Edward Heath, Tory Party leader gave his, “Declaration of Perth” statement supporting the establishment of a Scottish Assembly. But the issue of devolution lapsed with the Tory Party victory in the 1970 General Election and the failure of the SNP to increase their Westminster representation. The 1968, “Declaration of Perth” was quietly put on the, “back burner” due to other more pressing issues of state.
c. The Labour Party successes in the two 1974 elections and the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader in 1976 brought with it yet another change in the Tory Party’s attitude to Scottish devolution. Thatcher was bitterly opposed to any measure of Scottish self-rule. Her policy did have repercussions however, Alick Buchanan-Smith and his junior and future Secretary of State, Malcolm Rifkind both resigned from cabinet in protest.
d. John Major took up the reins of power from Thatcher in 1992. Faced within the party with a growing movement for change in Scotland he asked a number of senior colleagues to review the matter. The Tory Party was re-elected in the 1992 general election. The clamor for change increased in intensity but John Major dithered and did nothing.
3. The Labour Party’s Journey to 2014
a. The Labour Party, (with it’s centralized approach to government) found it extremely difficult, (still does) to be at peace with the conflicting demands of Socialist ideals within the wider UK and the desire for home rule on the part of the Scot’s.
b. Nevertheless support for Scottish Home Rule, from the formation of the Labour Party had been strong. The Party took a prominent role within the, Scottish Home Rule Association, (SHRA) and the relationship was rewarded when the SHRA supported Keir Hardie’s unsuccessful bid for the Mid-Lanark constituency by-election. However after the 1945 General Election and the euphoria of power that followed the matter of Scottish devolution was considered an irritating sideline by the Labour Party leadership in England, who had, “bigger fish to fry”.
c. Scottish devolution continued to be supported in the period, (1945-1951) by the Scottish Press, who regularly canvassed socialist voters, (support was as high as 80% at times). But the Secretary of State for Scotland, Arthur Woodburn took the view that such sentiment had more to do with austerity measures being forced upon the voters, than any Nationalist fervor. Any expression of disquiet in favor of Scottish home rule was bought off by short term financial improvements. the strong unionist position of the party remained in force as Labour policy until the electoral success of Winnie Ewing and other SNP figures in the late 1960s.
d. It was Harold Wilson’s government that belatedly formed a Royal Commission, (mirroring the 1951 effort) in 1969. The, “Kilbrandon Commission” reported back 4 year’s later in 1973, (they were in no hurry) with a qualified majority report recommending a system of limited home rule. But to no avail since the Labour Party were no longer the Party of government.
e. Two, “on the bounce” General Elections of 1974 brought about the rapid rise of the SNP, and the Labour Party suddenly found it’s voice and added their support in favor of of devolution. But there were serious divisions within the UK Labour Party over the level of home rule to be supported and Jim Sillars together with other labour home rule supporters, unhappy about the watering down of the, “Kilbrandon Commission” recommendations broke free from the English based UK Labour Party and formed the Scottish Labour Party, (SLP). The (SLP) was short-lived and suffered much abuse from the English based Labour party, but it’s policies were influential in shaping the direction of the SNP. Jim stood for election, won and represented the SNP in the UK parliament after a stunning win in the November 1988 Govan by-election.
4. The Liberal Democratic Party’s Journey to 2014
a. The Liberal Party, in opposition from 1922 has been consistent in it’s approach to Scottish home rule, but as a package of measures taking in Wales and Northern Ireland. But the party does get actively involved in any discussions with other parties who might be considering introducing Scottish home rule.
5. The Scottish National Party’s Journey to 2014
a. The SNP mission statement contains one purpose, “Scottish Self Government”. Over the years the aim has become clouded from time to time, some taking the view that a devolved parliament would be a suitable compromise but many others advocating complete independence as the only acceptable outcome of the struggle to recovery Scotland from a one-sided treaty that had brought a once proud nation to it’s knees.
b. The rise to prominence of the Scottish Nationalist Party, (SNP) since 1968, has been breathtakingly fast. Indeed the Party’s share of the vote from that year to 1974 rose to 30.4% taking the party to second place, behind labour in Scotland. It was this sustained rise and cry for independence that brought about the 1979 and 1997 referendums. Both were supported by the Labour Party so why did the first one fail and the second succeed?
6. The 1979 Referendum
a. The 1974-79 Labour Party exercised power as a minority government with the support of the SNP and Liberal party. The Labour Party was divided over the issue of devolution and the passage through Westminster of the necessary legislation for a referendum was fraught with disagreement and took a long time to legislate. The most contentious clause was insisted upon by, George Cunningham, a Scots MP representing a London constituency. The, “Cunningham Amendment” imposed a previously unheard of spoiler (named afterwards as the, “40% rule”), meaning that any registered voter who did not vote would be counted as a, “No” vote. and there needed to be at least 40% of the electorate in favor of the proposal. An almost impossible task for those who favored home rule.
b. But even with a, “loaded dice” the Labour Party remained reluctant to proceed with the referendum. It took a full scale back-bench revolt to drag the Labour party leadership to the ballot box. The referendum failed, entirely due to the 40% rule. A significant majority voted in favor of home rule but just short of the 40%. The Scottish nation was hugely disappointed in the Labour Party rightly believing it’s heart had never been with Scot’s aspirations.
7. The 1997 referendum
a. The Labour Party came to government in 1997 in a landslide election with a clear mandated policy of constitutional change within the UK. proposals included devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the possibility of regional assemblies in England, an elected Mayor for London and the reform of the House of Lords. Issues of devolution were now much less controversial.
b. The other factor clearly distinguishing 1979 from 1997 was the existence of the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC), comprised of non-partisan campaigners for home rule and representation from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats. The SCC had been in existence, in various forms throughout the period 1980 -1997, with the purpose of keeping the agenda for change in the public eye. The Tory Party, “Think Twice” campaign lost out badly to the positive, “Yes Yes” campaign mounted by those in favor of home rule.
Careful study of the foregoing reveals the tortuous route we Scot’s have been forced to take by both Tory & Labour governments who have taken our nation, time and time again to the door of freedom only to slam it shut, just as we Scot’s are about to step through. In compiling the precis I was struck, in the course of my investigations by the number of Scottish rogues featuring in many devious acts of betrayal over the year’s, all embarked on with the purpose of retaining the staus quo, protecting their highly paid salaries and expenses scams in Westminster together with many very well paid consultancy posts with private companies and the nod to get the ermine on at the end of their time in the commons taking up unelected well reimbursed peerages.
Scotland’s time has come. Ignore those who would deny you your right to be governed by politicians you elect. Remain stout of heart. Vote “Yes” in the referendum. Good luck.